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Electoral fraud, sometimes referred to as election fraud, election manipulation or vote rigging, is illegal interference with the process of an election, either by increasing the vote share of the favored candidate, depressing the vote share of the rival candidates, or both. What exactly constitutes electoral fraud varies from country to country. Many kinds of election fraud are outlawed in electoral legislations, but others are in violation of general laws, such as those banning assault, harassment or libel. In national elections, successful electoral fraud can have the effect of a coup d’état or corruption of democracy.
In a narrow election, a small amount of fraud may be enough to change the result. A list of threats to voting systems, or electoral fraud methods considered as sabotage are kept by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Electoral fraud can occur in advance of voting if the composition of the electorate is altered. The legality of this type of manipulation varies across jurisdictions. Deliberate manipulation of election outcomes is widely considered a violation of the principles of democracy. In many cases, it is possible for authorities to artificially control the composition of an electorate in order to produce a foregone result. One way of doing this is to move a large number of voters into the electorate prior to an election, for example by temporarily assigning them land or lodging them in flophouses.
Another strategy is to permanently move people into an electoral district, usually through public housing. Immigration law may also be used to manipulate electoral demography. A method of manipulating primary contests and other elections of party leaders are related to this. The goal ultimately is to defeat the weak candidate in the general election by the leader of the party that the voter truly supports. The composition of an electorate may also be altered by disenfranchising some classes of people, rendering them unable to vote. In some cases, states have passed provisions that raised general barriers to voter registration, such as poll taxes, literacy and comprehension tests, and record-keeping requirements, which in practice were applied against minority populations to discriminatory effect. Groups may also be disenfranchised by rules which make it impractical or impossible for them to cast a vote.
For example, requiring people to vote within their electorate may disenfranchise serving military personnel, prison inmates, students, hospital patients or anyone else who cannot return to their homes. In some cases, voters may be invalidly disenfranchised, which is true electoral fraud. In the Canadian federal election of 1917, during the Great War, the Union government passed the Military Voters Act and the Wartime Elections Act. Stanford University professor Beatriz Magaloni described a model governing the behaviour of autocratic regimes. She proposed that ruling parties can maintain political control under a democratic system without actively manipulating votes or coercing the electorate. Under the right conditions, the democratic system is manouvered into an equilibrium in which divided opposition parties act as unwitting accomplices to single-party rule.